At a Christmas party I attended a year ago, the crowd gathered around the sliced ham started buzzing about Barack Obama. A guest said he’d heard Obama speak and was blown away; he had a spark, a charisma, that he hadn’t seen in a presidential candidate since the Kennedys. Yes, several other guests chimed in, Obama really might give Hillary Clinton a run for her money. All of these admirers, as it happens, were white. Three of the guests in that room were black, each of them men over 50, and as they listened to the talk that Obama had a real chance to be president, they exchanged knowing smiles, and shook their heads. “Never happen,” said one of the men, a corporate executive who had lived through the ordeal of the civil-rights years. Whites, he said, might admire Obama, but in the privacy of the voting booth, most of them would not pull the lever for a black man—not for president.
Was he right? We’re just two primaries into a long election season, and while Clinton’s gender is quite evidently a factor, Obama’s race, thus far, is not. Her victory in New Hampshire was not the product of a last-minute stampede of ostensible Obama supporters; polls showed him with about 36 percent of the vote in a very white state, which is what he received. It’s not that anyone, Obama included, has forgotten that he’s black; but he’s running as a candidate who’s black, not as a black candidate. Voters are judging him by his ideas, his experience, and yes, by the content of his character. It’s a turning point many thought they’d never see, but whether Obama wins or loses, it has come. - William Falk